Comics Of Note

Brian K. Vaughn is all about the high-concept comics storyline: the death of all but one of the world's men in Y: The Last Man, a superhero-turned-New York mayor in Ex Machina. But he may have found his most irresistible premise with Runaways (Marvel), a series about six adolescents who flee together when they discover their parents are supervillains out to destroy the world. The series is inevitably angsty and dialogue-driven (the youngest runaway describes events around her as "just like The Real World... only real," though it's closer in tone to a Joss Whedon project), but it's also brainy and twisty, and it throws in plenty of Marvel-style hero action. The glossy new Runaways Vol. 1 hardcover collects the first 18 issues, which comprise a complete introductory story arc, but the series is ongoing, and well worth picking up...

When Alan Moore abandoned his America's Best Comics creations last year, he left them in the hands of competent writers and artists—none of whom have been able to provide the characters with the same beating heart. Case in point: Paul Di Filippo and Jerry Ordway's Top 10: Beyond The Farthest Precinct (Wildstorm), which approaches Moore's superhero police force with little of the TV-derived "handheld" vérité that made the original series so lively. In its place, Di Filippo adds page after page of explanation. By the time he's introduced all the characters and summarized their backstories, the first issue is over. The new series is all the more disappointing when contrasted with Moore and Gene Ha's much-delayed graphic novel Top 10: The Forty-Niners (Wildstorm), in which Moore re-imagines his whole concept, converting it from cable-ready policier to sweeping, romantic post-World War II adventure. Why can't this be an ongoing series?

Fantagraphics' latest releases include a pair of odd little hardback art projects: Jordan Crane's The Clouds Above tells the fanciful story of a boy and his cat and their trip to the sky, rendered in pleasing pastels and uncluttered one-panel pages. Thomas Ott's Cinema Panopticum is similar but far creepier, as a little girl enters a penny arcade full of wordless horror vignettes. Both books are kind of expensive, considering that they can each be read in less than 10 minutes, but the art and stories are superb, and they make fine coffee-table conversation pieces...

Fantagraphics also regularly publishes Tony Millionaire’s Maakies collections, the latest of which, Der Struwwelmaakies, continues to mine Millionaire’s low vein of sick jokes and elaborate cartooning. (Sample gag: When Uncle Gabby is asked why he’s eating eggs and pistachio shells, he replies, “My finger gets smelly when I scratch my anus, so I’m developing an abrasive fart.”) Though off-putting at first, the exaggerated misogyny and violence gets funnier with cumulative reading…

Post-punk cartoonist John Porcellino applies his spare lines to a story of '80s suburban romance in the autobiographical graphic novel Perfect Example (Drawn & Quarterly), which covers his waning high-school career and subsequent summer of slacking. Porcellino accurately captures what it's like to be a self-absorbed, downhearted teen, getting off on sympathy. More importantly, he also captures the revelatory moment when a habitual mope realizes he can just as easily decide to be happy...

Speaking of which, Shannon Wheeler's How To Be Happy (Dark Horse) only briefly gets into how to be happy, and his simple, direct advice will probably go over most readers' heads just as thoroughly as it zips by his far-below-super signature superhero Too Much Coffee Man. Mostly, the book—a collection of Too Much Coffee Man strips, which include autobiographical observations—seems to be about dissecting and understanding unhappiness, which comes in many familiar flavors. The closest thing out there to Matt Groening's Life In Hell back when it was bitterly, hilariously insightful instead of rote and predictable, Wheeler's cartoons are quirky and cute, but sharp-edged, wry, and self-aware...

The initial story arcs of Richard Moore's black-and-white humor series Boneyard (NBM) established a lively, dark slobs-vs.-snobs sort of story in which a motley group of generally unobjectionable monsters faced off against the townsfolk who just wanted them all to go lower some other burg's property values. But the series inexplicably degenerated into a story-lite collection of monster cheesecake shots, and it seemed to be treading water while Moore tried to figure out what to do next. He heads in the vague direction of back on track in Boneyard Volume Four, which pushes the series' central love triangle forward while introducing a messy zombie horde, though neither development distracts him from getting his female leads nude and semi-nude as often as possible. Meanwhile, the terrific series kick-off, Boneyard Volume One, has been re-released in full color...

Somewhere between a Richard Scarry picture-book and Craig Thompson's Good-bye, Chunky Rice is Aaron Renier's Spiral-Bound (Top Shelf), a lighthearted but story-dense book about a group of young anthropomorphic animals dealing with everything from the local monster to their own creativity. Renier's gentle tone and rounded-off, cartoony art makes this seem like a book for kids, but his storytelling is sophisticated, his characters are winning and sympathetic, and his bizarre conceits—like the whale who teaches art classes from a giant truck-mounted fishbowl—are a constant source of surprises.